Landlords use legal loopholes to postpone repairs

Third in a series about NYC's "worst landlords"


Martha Imbert has lived in her apartment for more than 20 years, and much of the time she and her fellow tenants have had to fight landlord Rich Luabsch over repairs and housing regulations.

Mr. Laubsch, who owns the building at 2709 Heath Ave., ranks number 92 on Public Advocate Letitia James’ list of 100 “worst landlord” in the city. He did not respond to a request for comment.  

Ms. Imbert said that she and her fellow tenants filed a lawsuit against Mr. Laubsch in 2014 over 346 violations he had run up with the city’s Housing Preservation and Development Department in just 37 units. 

She said that even though the court required him to make repairs, little to nothing has been fixed. 

“There are tenants here who have mold and leaks in the walls,” Ms. Imbert said, speaking in Spanish. “There is a line here with mold from the bottom floor of the building up to here, there is a tenant who actually got sick from it.”

The ceiling in her top-floor apartment has seen a series of leaks and holes, and her window needs a wooden plank to stay shut during the winter. 

“Someone on the first floor had something seeping into their apartment, I am not sure if it was from the septic tank or what,” she said. “We are afraid for the foundation of the building because the super said while he was fixing that, he saw the water coming from inside the foundation.”

Ms. Imbert said she has also seen a crack in the walls of her building, indicating even more potential problems with her building’s foundation. 

She said landlords like Mr. Laubsch often get away with neglecting to make sufficient repairs, by telling courts they have made repairs, even if they are not up to snuff. Tenants then have to refile complaints, which can take months to process, she said. 

A few blocks away, at 150 W. 197th St., sits another troubled building, owned by Adam Stryker, the 17th “worst landlord” on the list. Its tenants complain that problems are frequent, while repairs are not.  

Susa Barraza, who has lived there for nearly 25 years, was recently diagnosed with cancer and has to rely on a power scooter to get her to and from doctor’s appointments.  But the building’s elevator often breaks down, making it impossible for her to leave her fourth-floor apartment, she said.

“I had appointments all weekend and look, did you see the sign? The elevator is out,” she said. “We have a lot of days [when] the elevator does not work and I can’t climb up the stairs, I had surgery, I have eight types of cancer, I go to chemo, I have walk up and down the stairs.”

Ms. Barraza said getting in contact with Mr. Stryker is extremely difficult and often unfruitful. Mr. Stryker did not respond to a request for comment.

“I asked for a ramp and they told me no, that this building is not... accessible… I had to buy my own ramp, which cost me $300,” she said. 

“But they’re very fast to take you to court when you don’t want to pay the rent,” she said.